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How to Explain in a Job Interview Why You Were Let Go from Your Last Job

So you’ve finally gotten over the emotional stress of getting let go from your last job—and it comes up in your first interview once you’re back on the job hunt. Being let go can be tough on the ego, as well as financially stressful if you rely on a monthly paycheck to pay the bills, but you shouldn’t let this impact how you explain the situation to interviewers. Here are some tips for explaining why things didn’t work out with your last job.

Stay cool with a prepared answer

Perhaps most important is your demeanor when you answer the question “why did you leave your last job?” Before you interview, practice your response and make sure your narrative is clear, as rambling on, fumbling over your answer, or over-explaining the situation can make it appear as if you’re covering something up. 

In your interview preparation, be sure to consider how you’ll approach a few questions around the topic, such as “why were you let go?”, “what would your last boss have said about your time with the company?”, and “what have you learned from the experience?” In addition, prepare the most eloquent way to bring it up if your interviewer doesn’t know you were let go and simply asks why you left: It’s much better to be transparent about the situation than run the risk of covering it up and them finding out later on in the interview process.

Add context and focus on learnings

While it’s important to keep it succinct, there’s often value in adding appropriate context to your answer. For example, if you were let go because the company was downsizing or restructuring, it’s fair to bring this up—particularly if the decision was unrelated to your performance. Even if it was, there may be additional color which can help your interviewer understand the situation. Perhaps the expectations of your role changed after you joined, and you didn’t feel you were given the appropriate learning tools to step up to the new skill requirements. Whatever the situation, practice a short but informative narrative about what happened. 

Importantly, conclude your answer with what you’ve learned. Some people will use the experience to assess their strengths and weaknesses and go in a new career direction as a result. Others may look for roles with bigger companies because they’ve determined the uncertainty of a startup environment isn’t for them. Whatever your learning, be sure to include it in your answer, as doing so can both bring the conversation back to why you’re qualified for the role in question as well as highlight the maturity in your ability to reflect and improve as a result of a tough experience. 

Keep it positive

In addition to instilling a positive tone by explaining how you’ve used the situation as a learning experience, it’s important to keep your attitude towards your previous employer and team positive. Regardless of what happened, an interview isn’t the place to bad mouth them, as doing so can make you appear to be defensive, even if it feels like you’re simply recounting the experience. 

To be sure, there’s a fine line between explaining the situation and complaining, so practice spinning your answers towards the positive. For example, rather than blaming your old boss for failing to put more structure in place, explain that your working style is better suited to roles with clear expectations and deliverables (and perhaps tie this to your understanding of the role you’re interviewing for). Instead of bringing up team conflicts, focus on how you prefer a collaborative team structure and explain how you would personally work to foster such an environment.

‘Positive’ may be far from how you feel towards your last job, but don’t let that impact your chances of finding a role that you’ll have a better experience with.